NBA: 2011 Free Agents Under 25 Who Could Have a Big Impact
The free agent class of 2011 isn't as star studded as the class of 2010, but it will provide teams with great potential role players.
This class has some youth who can have productive futures, and it could see many teams throw pricey offers to acquire some help.
Teams looking to rebuild will want to look at some of these younger players as building blocks. On the flip side, current contenders could be looking to swoop in on some of these players as a finishing touch.
A lot of these selections are All-Star caliber players, while others will be either hit or miss.
Let's check out some young free agents.
Marcus Thornton, 24
If you want to talk about ending the season with a bang, just look at Marcus Thornton's numbers after being traded to Sacramento.
In 27 games with the Kings, Thornton averaged 21.3 points and 1.7 steals a game. A major upgrade from the 7.8 points per game he managed with New Orleans.
Finally given the kind of playing time he been denied with the Hornets, Thornton clocked in thirty-eight minutes a game with the Kings—more than double his nightly minutes with New Orleans.
Thornton isn't the biggest shooting guard in the league (6'4", 205 lbs), but he did prove that he can do big things in the NBA if given the time. To his credit, he got a break, and he made the most of it.
He's a tough defender who can create turnovers and is an above-average shooter. Thornton needs to work on his mid-range game in particular, but he is an adequate three-point shooter and is a beast at getting to the rim, where he finishes well.
With this being a rather weak offseason for free agents, teams in need of a shooting guard should snap up Thornton, who has the potential to be an All-Star down the line.
DeAndre Jordan, 23
DeAndre Jordan can be a special player in the NBA.
Not because he has a well-polished game but because he's a seven-footer with rare athletic ability. You can always teach basketball to a player, but athleticism is natural.
Jordan has a couple things going for him: He's just now entering his prime, he's coachable and he is dedicated to working on his game.
He'll never be a traditional back-to-the-basket, low-post threat, but he has the athleticism to be a disruptor down low, where his leaping ability and strong finishing will come in handy for some team.
He shot 69 percent from the field last year.
He will most likely remain a defensive specialist, but he has the ability to mop up on the offensive end. In increased minutes in 2010–11, Jordan averaged 1.8 blocks a game while pulling in seven rebounds.
That kind of dependable contribution is in short supply in the NBA: Just look at the Celtics, who were forced to deal with injury blows to Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal last season.
If he keeps trending upward, odds are good he will be averaging a double-double in the next few seasons.
Thaddeus Young, 23
Thaddeus Young's potential has never been in question. Why Philadelphia has shut him out will always confuse me.
Although a restricted free agent, Young is likely to explore signing with another team.
As a small forward, Young possesses great all-around ability. He can use his length and speed (he's a bouncy 6'8", 220 lbs) to get inside, but he can also hurt you from outside while on a hot streak. Cue the Josh Smith comparisons.
He uses those same physical attributes to be an effective defender. He is active on defense, using his long arms and anticipation to average a steal a game in 2010–11.
Young's passing and ball handling need work, but being a small forward it's not that big of a need.
He is still improving in various aspects and should find a starting role somewhere.
Give Young 30-plus minutes a game, and you've got a star.
Wilson Chandler, 24
Wilson Chandler is another classic example of an athlete who learned fundamentals.
Being a versatile player, Chandler has shown constant signs of ability. But most importantly, he has unshakable confidence.
While not having the best offensive game at the collegiate level, Chandler quickly developed a dependable three-point shot in the NBA. He's still got a ways to go consistency-wise, but he is a pure scorer. He won't dazzle you with his ball handling or passing, but he gels quickly—in a team like the Nuggets, that placed a premium on sharing the ball after Carmelo Anthony's departure, those attributes are highlighted.
Chandler has the size to guard post players and the quickness to match up with guards. He uses his big, athletic frame to grab rebounds. He's a great shot blocker for a forward but will not be the biggest contributor in forcing turnovers.
It will be interesting to see if a contender adds Chandler as a final piece or if a rebuilding team picks him up. With his manageable contract, he's an attractive option.
Jeff Green, 24
It is difficult to believe this former Georgetown star—he's of the (illegal) three-step floater that beat Villanova—is only 24. Jeff Green was part of a dynasty in the making in Oklahoma City but was dished to Boston in a questionable trade. The Thunder needed a playoff-proven big man, and they got him in Kendrick Perkins.
Losing Green's all-around game was a gut check, however, because the Thunder struggled to find a suitable replacement for their do-it-all glue guy.
Boston needs to consider bringing Green back. Their aging Big 3 will once again see limited minutes to be healthy for the playoffs, so a versatile contributor like Green—who can play either forward position—is a must.
Green wouldn't have as much offensive freedom in Boston, but learning from the likes of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett could really strengthen his game.
Keeping "Green in green" would be a win-win for both sides involved.
Glen Davis, 25
Glen Davis is a man of great size and pretty good athletic ability. The man was a five-star offensive lineman recruit coming out of high school, after all.
While Davis will never be a superstar in the NBA, he is a proven contributor and a dedicated winner.
Big Baby will always be one of the biggest hustlers on the team and will often be seen diving for loose balls or hustling back on defense.
Davis has strengthened his shooting range recently, making him even more of an offensive threat. While he's not a great leaper, he's shown a willingness to throw his body around inside to create second-chance opportunities.
If the Magic want to keep Dwight Howard, they should consider adding Davis as an indication that they are committed to surrounding "Superman" with quality contributors.
Davis has championship experience and would add another physical body to help Howard control the inside defensively. He is coming off the best season of his career and could be looking at a pretty nice deal coming up.
Arron Afflalo, 25
I won't touch too much on Arron Afflalo because I'm pretty confident he's going to be part of Denver's future plans.
He has worked tirelessly on his all-around game since entering the league, raising his scoring average each year. Quality defenders are in short supply, and Afflalo regularly matches up against the opposing team's top scorer. It's that dedication and willingness to contribute that makes him the perfect role player.
Afflalo will be a nice piece for Denver to keep, and he could even help them contend for the playoffs this year.
J.R. Smith, 25
There are plenty of teams needing to fill a shooting guard void, and J.R. Smith could be a great fit. Whether his antics are worth the trouble is another story.
Smith has never shown fear to put up shots, and when he's hot he can be one of the best shooters in the league. He also has the ball handling skills to be effective driving to the basket but is most likely going to be a shooter.
His inconsistency can be maddening, however. When he's on he's one of the top pure scorers in basketball. When he's off he gets petulant very quickly and has shown a tendency to shoot his teams out of games.
To his credit, Smith has begun showing more than a passing interest on defense. Being an athletic guard, Smith has the tools needed to be a second scoring option in the NBA.
Many question his personality, but if you can look past it, Smith can be a valuable asset. He has never been a legit starter, but if he improves his shot selection he can work his way into any starting five around the league.
It's a big "if."
Rodney Stuckey, 25
Rodney Stuckey is one of the most underrated players in free agency this offseason.
Although the Pistons suffered through a terrible season in 2010–11, Stuckey was a bright spot. Detroit is in a rebuilding stage, and it's unclear if the former Eastern Washington star fits into future plans.
If not, some team could hit a jackpot for a top-scoring guard.
Stuckey is a big point guard, standing a 6'5". He uses his size to his advantage on defense and is adept at overpowering guards on the offensive end with his bullish drives to the basket.
He could transition to a two-guard if needed, but he is much more dynamic as a slashing point.
Although Stuckey is a good scoring option, he is also just as valuable as a passer and ball-handler.
Last year, he averaged 15.5 points a game along with 5 assists and could be a superb pickup for a team needing a versatile guard.
Shannon Brown, 25
After providing the Los Angeles Lakers with a wealth of "SportsCenter Top-10" plays, Brown looks set to take his high-flying act somewhere else.
While he'll never be mistaken for a top-level guard, Brown excites the crowd with his "did-you-just-see-that" athletic feats. His energy is a boon to any team.
Getting to the basket is when Brown is most effective. Although he had a dependable three-point shot at Michigan State, he's struggled for consistency in the pros.
He's never shown a commitment to playing defense, but he's a serviceable option on that side of the ball.
He is sure to draw some attention post-lockout and could be a good energy guy as the sixth-man option for a deep title contender.
Mario Chalmers, 25
Mario Chalmers played a small role for Miami last season—with the Big 3, it's easy to forget he once hit the game-winner in the 2008 NCAA championship game—but, if he resigned he would be the undisputed starting point guard. He's never going to be an All Star, but he's a solid option at point for a contending team.
He was one of the most consistent players for the Heat in the NBA Finals and has shown he loves taking big shots. Players who thrive off that will always find teams willing to spend money on them. Unfortunately for Miami, they are strapped for cash.
With the pressure off on offense, where he can demur to LeBron, Wade and Bosh, Chalmers is counted on to hit threes and play turnover-free basketball—his bread-and-butter as a player.
Defensively, Chalmers is an underrated option. He has a true competitive drive and will play hard defense one-on-one.
Chalmers is a restricted free agent, so Miami will have the chance to match any offers. As valuable as Chalmers became for them, it would be a surprise if he took his talents away from South Beach.
Greg Oden, 23
Yeah, Greg Oden, it's time for you to stop sitting there and do something.
The former No. 1 pick has seen his blinding potential dulled by serious injury. If Oden can remain healthy for one year, he's got the tools to be a solid contributor for one of the top young teams in the West.
Still only 23, Oden shouldn't be considered a bust yet, but the clock is ticking. Should he prove unable to shake off these nagging injury woes, he may be forced into early retirement like Yao Ming.
In his career of 82 games, the seven-footer has shown glimpses of the potential that once had scouts pegging him a once-in-a-generation kind of talent.
Although playing just 21 games last year, he managed to block 2.3 shots a game and shot 61 percent from the field. It's that kind of production that would prove a perfect complement to the high-scoring LaMarcus Aldridge.
Besides being injury-prone, one of his other concerns would have to be staying out of foul trouble. Oden has the bad tendency of picking up early, cheap fouls and finding himself on the bench.
Portland is the most likely candidate to keep Oden on their books. It'd be hard for the them to discard a player they've invested so much in. Both Portland and Oden have something to prove; what remains to be seen is if they can achieve their goals together.
How good could Greg Oden have been at full health? He's a live-wire seven-footer who can rebound and block shots. That's something you can't teach.
Now let's just hope he doesn't prove as big a disappointment like former No. 1 pick Michael Olowokandi.
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